Local Features
9:50 am
Wed September 5, 2012

One Square Mile: Concerns linger over the wind farm linger

PROVIDENCE, RI – Most residents on Block Island support the construction of a five-turbine wind farm off the coast because it will reduce their power bills, which are some of the highest in the nation. The project has at least one vocal critic, resident and former Redmond, WA mayor Rosemarie Ives.

Even though most of the hurdles have been cleared and construction is expected to start next year on a five-turbine wind farm off the Block Island coast, Ives is not giving up her fight against the wind farm. She's still upset that the state's public utilities commission rejected the wind farm plan, only to come back and approve a similar plan after lawmakers and former Gov. Don Carcieri passed a law requiring a second look.

I sat down with on Block Island at a picnic table with a spectacular view of the water. Ives admits that her initial opposition to the wind farm was that it would blot the spectacular view she has from her backyard. But now it's more than that. We started our conversation on what leaders on Block Island could have done to stop the project.

Town Leaders: We've Explored Every Option
Nancy Dodge has been New Shoreham's town manager for 12 years. She says it's untrue that the town has done little to lower energy costs for its residents. "No one has been sitting on their hands over the past ten years, believe me," she says.

The town has a history of wrestling with the Block Island Power Company, or BIPCO. It's fought requested rate hikes with mixed results. Dodge says two years ago the town even tried to buy the power company and set it up as a cooperative.

Both groups have explored putting in a cable connecting the island with the mainland. New Shoreham's First Warden Kim Gaffett says BIPCO had filed a cable request with the state's Public Utilities Commission, which the PUC approved and the town opposed. Gaffett says BIPCO later scrapped that plan because it was too expensive. Then when the town looked into themselves, the cable carried a $20 million price tag. Town Manger Nancy Dodge says that number has grown.

"Bottom line, as of today, it looks as though a cable to the mainland would cost about $40 million," says Dodge.

To pay for the line, Dodge says the town offered to partner with BIPCO and apply for federal grants. That went nowhere. And about a decade ago town officials looked into paying for the cable through bonds. But it was unclear whether paying back the bonds would be cheaper than the status quo. So Block Islanders are still paying for power generated by diesel fuel and its fluctuating costs. The proposed wind farm will change that. Dodge says it's the island's best change at finally getting that cable. But the town has its concerns. It's worried about the environmental effects connecting a cable will have on the shore.

"The other legitimate concern is decommissioning. What happens 20 years from now," says Dodge, "if they life span is 20 years how do you put aside monies to decommission if in fact they are no longer functioning at that point in time. How do you determine the cost? Where does that escrow money lie?"

These questions have been and will continue to be part of the conversation, Dodge says. Construction on the five turbine wind farm is slated to begin next year.

Take a listen to the rest of One Square Mile: Block Island here

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